ACC Basketball: Why Duke & North Carolina Are Struggling

One of the many memorable moments in NCAA Tournament lore came in 1979, when fans of North Carolina and Duke converged on Greensboro to watch their teams play in the first round of what was then a 32-team bracket. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils were the top two seeds in the East. Both lost, in what became known on Tobacco Road as “Black Saturday”, and ushered in the NCAA Tournament’s first gutted bracket.

The start of the 2014 ACC basketball race won’t reach that magnitude, but it’s been a dark stretch for both Duke and North Carolina. The teams are a combined 1-5 in conference games, in spite of Duke being seen as a prime national contender and Carolina not far behind. We’ll review each team’s three ACC games to ask a two-part question—what’s wrong and is this something to be concerned about for the long haul?

Let’s start with Duke…

@Notre Dame (77-79): Notre Dame shot 53 percent and outrebounded Duke 39-30, to offset twelve three-pointers by the Blue Devils. Highly touted freshman Jabari Parker is held to seven points, while Rodney Hood goes for 27.

vs. Georgia Tech (79-57): In spite of the rout, Georgia Tech shot 49 percent from the floor. And if you believe in the conspiracy theories that surround Duke at home, how about this—the Blue Devils outscore the Yellow Jackets 22-0 at the free throw line.

@Clemson (59-72): Clemson shoots 47 percent, dominates the boards to the tune of 48-30, in spite of 20 points from Hood.

These early returns can’t be dismissed. Duke clearly has problems on the defensive end, and what’s more, that has been a problem for this program in recent years. You aren’t going to be an elite team routinely allowing opponents to get into the high 40s, percentage-wise, from the floor.  The same goes for the lack of rebounding, all of which adds to the concern over Parker’s slow start in ACC play.

Now let’s go to North Carolina…

@Wake Forest (67-73): When you dominate the glass, 53-34, like Carolina did, you have to work pretty hard to still lose the game. The guards—Marcus Paige, Nate Britt and Leslie McDonald—combine to shoot 9-for-31.

vs. Miami (57-63): The guard trio shoots 6-for-31 this time out, in a home loss to a rebuilding team.

@Syracuse (45-57): In spite of the low score, Paige has his best game, shooting 7-for-16 against the Syracuse zone and scoring 17 points. But having to play on the perimeter meant limited opportunities to get to the foul line. On balance though, this is not a game they would have been expected to win to demonstrate championship bona fides.

North Carolina has clearly not recovered from losing guard to P.J. Harrison to NCAA suspension. The guard play is just very problematic, and while respect for head coach Roy Williams dictates we at least assume the Tar Heels will make the NCAA Tournament and improve enough to be a spoiler at home, they look nothing like a contender for an ACC basketball title.